Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dr. Cyril Wecht on Trial- Day 3

Testimony in the federal case against the former Allegheny County coroner and famed pathologist continued, with witnesses telling gruesome stories of Dr. Cyril Wecht's disregard for the duties of his office.
First to the stand was Daniel D'Alessandro, director of a Lawrenceville funeral home. He says when he collected the body of Charles DuMont from the county's possession, he found a Y- shaped autopsy incision in the embalmed corpse. The family had not asked for one, and none was recorded on the death certificate. D'Alessandro called it an "illegal and unnecessary" though he didn't know where the autopsy was performed. The government claims Wecht traded bodies like Mr. DuMont's as educational cadavers for free lab space in then Carlow College.
Richard Lorah was a deputy coroner under Wecht, and says the "Wecht details" were just a part of the job, but they took precedence to county duties. He says he was told to go on a Wecht detail instead of collecting the body of a woman who'd backed her car off of a downtown parking ramp. He says he overheard Wecht say, "Let her wait, she's not going anywhere."
Lorah also testified that he saw 20-30 boxes of private case files stacked in an executive assistant's office on a February Friday, and after the media reported the beginning of an investigation into Dr. Wecht's affairs, he saw the boxes being removed.
The defense tried to impeach Mr. Lorah by scrutinizing his grand jury testimony for discrepancies. Lorah told the grand jury he'd heard the removal of the boxes, but did not say that he'd seen it. Lorah maintained his eye-witness account.
Lead defense lawyer Jerry McDevitt also brought up Lorah's personnel record at the coroner's office, which includes several reprimands. Lorah admitted one of those reprimands was for profane language while talking about Dr. Wecht. In re-cross examination, Lorah says Wecht swore at him, calling him an "(expletive) Neanderthal" for stopping on the wrong side of the street to pick him up.
Darlene Craig, another county employee that started as a deputy coroner, also testified that "Wecht details" were more imporant than county business. She says she drove with Dr. Wecht to the airport, and picked him and his family up from the Byham theater. When construction forced her to drive across the river while she waited for Dr. Wecht, Craig says he was upset when she was "late." She drove across the river and back 4 times.
In 2005, the coroner's office received a call to collect the body of a hanging suicide, which occured outside. Craig says she took the call, but before she could leave was told by a supervisor that she needed to drop items off to Wecht's law firm, Duquesne University, and an office in the PPG building before going to the scene. Craig says the body was still hanging outside when she arrived.
The defense brought up that Craig didn't pass a necessary exam to become a forensic investigator, but Dr. Wecht did not follow protocol and fire her, but let her have another chance. Craig admitted she didn't know why Wecht was going to the airport when she accompanied him to return the car, or what exactly she delivered for him. She admitted it could have been for county business.
Craig says she was upset at leaving the body, and Wecht didn't give the order directly, but she didn't take advantage of the open-door policy Dr. Wecht had, ending her remark "there was a reason for that." Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Stallings gave her the chance to explain in re-cross. She says that no matter who the order came from, if it was a Wecht detail then Dr. Wecht had told someone it needed done.
Both former employees testified that "Wecht details" were not favors, but orders, more important than their other duties as county employees.

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